History will always remember that the first gramophone record in India was cut in 1902 and the singer was Gauhar Jan. It is believed that very few women, during those early days, ventured into recording. It was Gauhar Jan, an artist of considerable repute, who broke this taboo. She was called the Gramophone Girl and in some of the later records she was described as the Dancing Girl of Calcutta. That first record of hers turned a best seller. Thereafter, during 1902-1910, some 500 artists made recordings for the Gramophone Company. One of them was a teenage dancing girl called Achhan Bai. Here I present to you some songs recorded by her, which I presume are the only ones left preserved. Take note of the announcements in first three songs.
Preserving these 78rpm discs were always cumbersome and so naturally, even the Gramophone Company of India, that held monopoly over recordings for a long while, dispensed with most of their collections. Many people even painted on these discs and used them as wall decorations, while others moulded them into shapes that could be used as Paan daan (betel leaf box). These boxes were sold for one Rupee, while the 78rpm record cost just four annas (16 paise).
Then, there were these businessmen from Bombay who reportedly bought all the 78rpms they could from the market and even from private collectors, on the pretext that they were attempting to save those ancient recordings through some modern technology. It was just after the World War, and there was restriction on the import of lac or shellac, which these shrewd businessmen knew, would be in short supply. The 78rpm gramophone records were made of high quality, purified lac. All the piles of records they gathered were then melted to obtain this substance. And thus was lost precious music and documented history.
Rising from the ruins, some gems from the past will, however, continue to surface, thanks to a few passionate collectors living unrecognized in several parts of India.